REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy
We think of Marvel Studios as having the golden touch with can’t-miss hit films one after the other. As a result, our selective memory obscures Hulk and Iron Man 2 (and for some, though not me, Iron Man 3) as creatively underwhelming. Instead, we look at the box office totals only and, ahem, marvel at their track record. As a result, some had their knives out ready to skewer the studio for being audacious enough to offer up Guardians of the Galaxy. After all, who ever heard of them? How quickly one forgets. Critics were saying the same thing in 2008 when Iron Man arrived, wondering if enough non-geeks would turn out to see a B-list hero with a former addict in the lead.
Even the entertaining trailers, which clearly signaled the tone was going to be substantially lighter, couldn’t make people hold their judgment. Then the film opened. The results speak for themselves as the movie was a top ten success around the world and just in time for the holidays Walt Disney Home Entertainment has released the movie as a Combo Pack (Blu-ray, DD, digital) and has been offering it as a digital download for weeks.
The second time around is just as entertaining thanks to director James Gunn, rising above the crap that was Movie 43, bringing a sense scale along with some genuine human humor. With pitch-perfect casting and top-notch effects, the rag-tag band of adventurers and assassins are brought together with pleasing results.
Admittedly, the story from Nicole Perlman and Gunn was pretty mundane: yet another object of immense power is up for grabs and everyone wants it without fully understanding the consequences of unleashing such energy. Dissipate forces come together to do what is right and save the day but not without some pain and suffering along the way. However, the movie’s straight-forward story is nicely enhanced by setting it against our first real look at the cosmic aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, filled with lots of colorfully-hued humanoids and cultures that are far advanced than dear old Earth.
Each of the five Guardians – Peter Quill, the Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Thanos’ adopted daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), mercenary Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and his companion Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) – wants the object for different reasons and don’t immediately bond. When all four of them wind up in the same place at the same time, each gets to one-up the other but all wind up imprisoned anyway where their fifth member enters the fray.
Meantime, the religious zealot Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) wants the orb to help him eliminate the hated Xandarians, led by Nova Prime (an underused Glenn Close). But the one who desires it the most is Thanos (Josh Brolin), since has been the force behind the others powerful objects across the last few Marvel movies. It’s out first look at the major threat, who first cameoed at the end of The Avengers, and Gunn admits in the commentary he had to be shoehorned a bit and it sort of shows if you look.
As each member of the team is revealed we see their underlying desires, most of which are fairly simple and you feel for Peter, snatched from Earth the day his mother died, or Rocket, painfully enhanced mammalian lifeform lonely in a heavily populated universe, or even Gamora, ready to betray her father and rival “sister” Nebula (Karen Gillan).
The object is too powerful to let Thanos obtain it so they leave it with the Nova Corps but no doubt it won’t stay with them for long. As a chapter in Phase Two, culminating this summer with The Avengers: Age of Ultron, it furthers some of the cosmology and metastory very nicely but that is all background to a story of five people finding a place in the universe where they can themselves. Here, Gunn does wonderful work with his cast, mixing human moments with action, thrills, and yes, lots of humor.
The 1970s soundtrack also undercuts the melodrama and lets the wider audience connect with the story and characters. All in all, a very satisfying experience.
On high definition, the transfer is lovely and the colors are rich without being overwhelming. The 7.1 DTS-HDMA is sharp which helps you hear the dialogue, sound effects and soundtrack without a problem.
The special features, like the film itself, do not take themselves too seriously with fun 8-bit computer graphics connecting the various vignettes found in the multiple Making-of featurettes. You get enough of a taste to understand how they designed the look of the aliens, the world, the starships, makeups, and special effects. The gag reel is as funny as one would expect and the revelation is Pace, having a dandy time as Ronan. Gunn’s audio commentary points out some nice touches you would miss otherwise and shows his appreciation for performers he’s worked with in most of his other films, notably Michael Rooker and Gunn’s brother Sean. One interesting take-away from the bonus pieces is how much Rocket is the result of Sean Gunn’s stand-in work, Cooper’s voice work, and the CGI animators so no one person should get the credit for the indelible creation.
Finally, there’s a brief look at Joss Whedon on the set of the new Avengers film so you see some of the new performers at work sans special effects so while you learn nothing new, it does its job of keeping you highly anticipating its May release.